I found myself casting my mind back to 1981, when, asked by my form teacher to put on a show for a class assembly, my friends and I decided to imitate the Human League. We did it in front of our class and it was fairly well received.
Ah, it's that time of year again. It's time to trudge through one of Holland's greatest venues with all the hip knobhounds, whilst checking all the new overseas talent as if they were a bunch of highly marketable cattle. It has to be said that there is a slightly business-like air to the proceedings, seeing seven or eight bands at one sitting can be very taxing emotionally. Still, before I get castigated as some kind of lily-livered fop this was the best London Calling by some way, especially the Saturday night. Let us get down to business then.
We missed The Race. We are sorry. We did, however, manage to catch Queen Adreena. Putting this lot on in the small room was a mistake I feel. Their gig brought to mind the words of the great Cecil Beaton's reminiscences about the Second War. Yes, it was the noise, my dears, the noise... A screech here, a wail there; all set off by a thumpingly loud soundtrack. The gig was pretty okay actually. And boy, can that lady singer sing. There is something in Queen Adreena's music that is actually quite appealing, even if it's something I can't quite connect with. It did all feel very serious, (and rather Gothic) and as such either needed a more imaginative setting or a better paced set.
Next up were the White Rose Movement who, sorry to say, left me cold. Watching them, I found myself casting my mind back to 1981, when, asked by my form teacher to put on a show for a class assembly, my friends and I decided to imitate the Human League. We did it in front of our class and it was fairly well received. As one of the synthesizer players, my part in this was infinitely less glamorous than the two girls playing the two girls; but, I suspect, that's the fate of synthesizer players in general.
Where was I? Oh yes, The White Rose Movement. Yeah, they were okay, but I found it worrying that my first mental reaction was to remember that class assembly. I do hope they don't read this and get discouraged...
After this I was grabbed by some people I know and was persuaded to have a small drink with them in the cafe downstairs. In addition to this divertissement, my girlfriend suddenly found herself chosen for the role of co-singer for the Brakes' cover of Jackson, due to be performed later that evening.
I'd already seen Brakes play a blistering set the previous night at Rotown. Still, Brakes are one of those slightly curious, off kilter, so normal they're strange bands and they always throw up surprises live - and I am a fan - so I took my place up front. The band was on great form, playing looser versions of the tracks found on their charming LP. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this looseness suits them and gives them a distinct edge over other guitar bands with whom they have been rather unfairly lumped. I Can't Stand to Stand Beside You was a brilliant highlight and All Night Disco Party oozed confidence. A beguiling band, I suspect that their next couple of releases are going to be very good indeed. Oh, and I must say that I was very proud of the Other Half's duet on Jackson. It takes guts to sing on stage, especially when you are very shy. Further, it would have been nice to have seen some of the reviewer's reactions to this duet being as charitable and understanding as the audience's.
If not exactly a new face, The Zutons were a very welcome addition to the bill. Incendiary are big fans of this band, especially this band performing live. From the off, with Zutons Fever, there was a fabulous energy to this concert. I don't know why, but every time sax player Abby does that daft jump-about, drunken flamingo dance of hers, there's magic in the air. This was top stuff, brilliantly paced, simpatico in tone. Fabulous versions of You Will You Won't and Remember Me were just the icing on the cake.
After this things got rather messy. We did manage to squeeze one more act in before the drunken oblivion finally descended, and that was Kid Carpet. Kid Carpet's musical vision seems to be an endearing mix of raucous opinions and slapdash, scuzzy, home-baked funk. There is something of the medieval jester, or street player about Kid Carpet. However, the lad has something that ensures his act can never be classed as novelty or self parody, even when he resorts to waving a small plastic pink guitar about. I enjoyed it immensely. Quite inexplicably we ended the night watching jazz in a smokey bar, an action which doesn't help my angular, go-ahead, ace reporter image... But there again, appearances can be deceptive.
Saturday's bill when viewed in retrospect was a series of brilliant sets, possibly the best London Calling night I've witnessed actually. I missed two acts, namely Battle and Chikinki, who by all accounts were pretty damned fab; so apologies and best wishes to them. Anyway, onto Field Music, a band we did manage to catch. This lot definitely have something, but quite what it is I can't really say. Twice I was on the verge of walking out; thinking their jangling and rather nervous take on C87 rock wasn't my cup off tea, only to be stopped in my tracks by a quite brilliant turn of phrase or melody. Interesting, but I feel I need more time to ponder.
It was a confused reporter who then traipsed off to watch Amusement Parks on Fire in the main hall. To label Amusement Parks on Fire as sounding like My Bloody Valentine, Sugar or Sonic Youth seems a tad unfair. True, they explore the same musical territory as their predecessors, and their scruffy demeanour certainly harkens back to the late eighties/early nineties Shoegazing scene. All the same, there is a power and a quiet intensity about this lot that is all of their own. Good stuff, especially the strung out instrumentals.
Into the little room again, this time to see Guillemots who surprised us all by running down the centre of the room, blowing and waving various musical instruments, like a gang of medieval mummers on the run. Certainly the cap the bearded singer wore gave him an antediluvian air. Their line up looked fairly peculiar too, sporting a female double bass player who, given her formal dress was obviously off to a debutantes ball once she'd obliged her contract by playing this gig. The "medieval" singer sat at the keyboard. A gauche guitarist and very nonchalant drummer completed the ensemble. Guillemots proceeded to play a very eclectic, whimsical, piano based set that was, although crammed with references and influences -Traffic, Gong, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and The Blockheads - was actually quite appealing and individual. This brand of whimsical modern pop was last pulled off albeit less effectively, by Dogs Die In Hot Cars. Indeed, the set became even more steeped in whimsy with the final track of the evening, a paeon from the singer to an unknown girl, accompanied only by a toy hand-held piano. Not to everyone's taste, but he pulled it off. An interesting band, this lot. Ones to watch.
After the pleasant surprise of Guillemots came the depressing confirmation that was Dogs. Whatever Dogs are trying to do does not work in my humble opinion. The set is all very scrappy and disjointed; it all seems like a set of lads with guitars trying out a lot of musical styles to no very satisfactory or definite conclusion. Rather like Mancheter United's midfield (at time of writing), they lack cohesion and direction, and consequently seem less than the sum of their parts. After watching them grumble and slur their way through a few numbers, Incendiary decide to leave, in order to secure a good view for the much vaunted !Forward Russia!
Can I please point out to you the reader that the first exclamation mark of the !Forward Russia! name is meant to be upside down. You will have noticed that I am not computer literate enough to invert this exclamation mark to the desired angle, but this irritant will not hinder me in praising this band. They are a rather perverse, and very energetic mix of various great acts, most notably The Ramones and Gang of Four (yes, a tiresome call, but in this case well merited). They were on this showing, pretty fantastic. All their songs are apparently "named" after a number.
All the band members wear a white t-shirt with a design concocted out of the two exclamation marks that bookend their name. They play their music shatteringly loud, and have choruses that are bark out with military precision by the guitarist and the fantastically stentorian blonde girl drummer. The singer writhes around with abandon, as if re-enacting the wailing of some stricken banshee on a lonely moor-side. Probably he's just kidnapped Morrisey's mid eighties dance routine and hurled all the super camp bits over a cliff, leaving just the arm throwing and willowy shake-downs. He obviously has an insatiable desire to master some trick of escapology, as during he course of his writhing, he frequently wraps himself in the microphone lead, sometimes irretrievably so. All these ingredients create an intoxicating stew and Incendiary were completely captivated.
Following this all-out assault, we stick around for Duels, but to be frank, weren't all that impressed. It was okay, I suppose, but there was just that extra special something missing to make the music more identifiable. Oh well, we run downstairs to see Clor, who put on a fabulous show. Clor make very, very clever pop. Having said that I can see why people don't get them. Their music is detached, aesthetic and sometimes makes you feel as if you need a degree to understand its intricacies. I can understand that this approach turns some people off. Still, this refusal to play to the gallery allows them to concentrate on their strengths. They are quite weird, drawing from diverse sources such as Kraftwerk and Robyn Hitchcock, but they successfully tailor their weirdness in a shiny pop suit. And they curry no favours for this.
At this stage of the night the constant actions of traipsing up and down the Paradiso stairs was beginning to lose its appeal. And - once the stairs had been climbed for the umpteenth time – there was another battle awaiting; that of squeezing into a packed room for Test Icicles. I can't say I warmed to their album at all. Still you could say that their LP is the musical equivalent of an icy blast, which sometimes is a very useful thing. And, hell, I'm a forgiving type of bloke. On they came looking incredibly cartoon-like in their half-mast jeans and hoods; the singer's fringe, I swear "borrowed" from a Manga film. They then proceeded to crank out a thrash assault of considerable wit and charm, totally missing from their recording. I actually enjoyed it. It was the equivalent of a fine brandy after dinner, a pick me up both mentally and spiritually. I need not add however, that I shall not be revisiting their LP anytime soon.
After this I decided that enough was enough, and ended up dragging myself off for some fast food. Apologies once again to Chikinki, who, I hear, played a fine set...
Words: Richard Foster.